Hydrofracking: State Preemption, Local Power, and Cooperative Governance

Case Western Reserve Law Review ( 2013, v63 n4 ) / by John R. Nolon and  Steven E. Gavin

Advocates for the gas drilling technology known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, argue that it will bring significant economic benefits to the private and public s ectors. Its opponents dispute these claims and point to significant environmental and public health risks associated with fracking—risks that must be considered in adopting government regulations needed to protect the public interest. One of the many issues raised by fracking is which level of government should regulate which aspects of the practice. This debate is complicated by the fact that the risks associated with fracking raise concerns of federal, state, and local importance and fit within existing regulatory regimes of each of these levels of government. This Article begins by describing the limited aspects of fracking that are currently regulated by the federal government, which leaves many of the risks unaddressed, opening the door for state and local regulation. This Article describes the legal tension between state and local governments in regulating fracking in the four states that contain the immense Marcellus shale formation. Its particular focus is on court decisions that determine whether local land use regulation, which typically regulates local industrial activity, has been preempted by state statutes that historically regulate gas drilling operations. This investigation suggests that the broad scope and durability of local land use power as a key feature of municipal governance tends to make courts reluctant to usurp local prerogatives in the absence of extraordinarily clear and express language of preemption in state statutes that regulate gas drilling. The Article concludes with an examination of how the legitimate interests and legal authority of all three levels of government can be integrated in a system of cooperative governance.

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